GOD IS LOVE IS GOD

  The ancient Greeks had a system of pantheism. They had a god for just about everything. They had a god of the wind, and a god of the sun, and of course a god of love. This system actually meant that they worshipped the unknown forces that caused these natural phenomenon. They didn’t know about meteorology so they hoped to appease the unknown force that moved the air. They invented names, personalities, and even family histories for all the causes of natural phenomenon, whether it was the sun, the wind, or the human emotion we call love.

  Their whole system was rather confused. It depends on which oral tradition one listened to as to exactly who this god of love is. Sometimes it is identified as Aphrodite who was the goddess of beauty and love. Sometimes it is identified as Eros, who is more the god of physical attraction. Sometimes Aphrodite is said to be the mother of Eros, and sometimes just a companion to him.

   One can understand why the ancient Greeks, being pagans, had a vague, confused, and superstitious idea of worship. Modern day Catholics have no such excuse. We have the sacred scripture, and we have a 2,000-year tradition handed down from the apostles. We in the Catholic Church have the fullness of the truth as it has been revealed so far.

   It seems however that some are actually getting it wrong these days. Just like the ancient Greeks, who worshipped the created powers of nature, some want to worship the created thing of human love instead of God, Who is the creator of nature and Father of all love. The scripture tells us that “God is love” (1John 4:8). There are some that want us to believe that “love is god.”

   These “love is god” people are the ones that say things like, “As long as people love each other that makes it right.” Whether the topic is homosexual unions, those with a valid marriage who divorce and want to remarry, or people living in sinful unions, the sorry rhetoric is always the same. It’s love, love, love. Love to them is the trump card that outweighs revealed truth, whether in scripture or Tradition.

   Perhaps a few words about the Greek language that the gospels were written in would be helpful. The Greeks had four words for love. The first is “storge”. This term is sort of a friendship kind of feeling. This word expresses the way one might feel for a pet or someone who, although not your favorite, is at least familiar. The next word is “philios”. This is a kind of brotherly love that one has for a close friend. Thirdly there is “eros” which, as one can imagine, has a more sexual connotation. Finally there is “agape”, which is that pure, holy, total self-giving commitment that God has for us. (Anyone who would like a more in-depth discussion on these four words should seek out C.S. Lewis’ discussion on the topic, from which the above information is taken.)

   When St. John tells us that “God is love” he is referring to agape. God gave himself completely to mankind, even taking on our humanity and dying for our sins. God is the source of all that is good and holy. As St. Paul says, “God’s love (agape) has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit...” (Rom 5:5).

   Agape, whether translated as charity, or love, “is the superior to all the virtues.” (CCC 1826). Agape will have us do the best for someone. Agape can make us do the opposite of what human emotions might tell us. A divorced person will have to remain celibate. An engaged couple will have to remain chaste. A person struggling with homosexuality will have to remain alone. A married couple will refrain from relations rather than use dehumanizing contraception. These things will be done because of God’s self-giving agape that He expects us to have for each other. God gives us a framework to help us understand what is agape and what is not. This framework is His revealed truth, which has been given to us through the Scriptures and the teachings of the Catholic Church. “If you love me you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15).

   When he wrote “God is love” St. John was not indicating that God is a romantic gushy feeling, or a form of physical desire rationalized into a virtue. To put the range of human emotions we call love above the revealed truth of almighty God is blatant idolatry. This is a clear case of worshipping “the creature rather than the creator” (Rom 1:25). To worship love is to sink to the level of the pantheistic pagans.

   We as Catholics know that the correct way to read the bold words at the top of this page is to put our thumb over the last two words so that it reads “God is love.” When some indicate that our feelings are more important than God’s truth they are covering up the first two words to say “love is god”.

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Published by The Minnesota St. Thomas More Chapter of Catholics United for the Faith, February 2000.